Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chocolate Covered Candy Cane Marshmallow Generosity - The Boys' TakeCharge of the Treats

Since generosity is the virtue our family is focusing on this Advent, last week I asked the boys if they would like to put some charity into practice by making something homemade for their homeschool classmates. They were so eager to jump right in, that I decided to let them completely take charge of choosing and making the treats for their friends. 
This was a good idea because why, again, can you remind me??? Ha! Just kidding. Say it with me, sugar-coated chaos is fun!!

What I realized after it was all said and done is that if you give boys free reign in the land o' treat making they will always:

1. Instinctively find the recipe with the most grams of sugar per bite (marshmallows, candy canes, chocolate and sprinkles, need I say more?) Yay for dental bills! Note Exhibit A:
2. Continually lick their fingers even if you make them wear gloves. Behold Exhibit B (Charlie's 17th pair): 
3. Ruin half of the treats by infecting them with finger-licked germs, so you must always buy twice the number of ingredients and plan on the "easy" Pinterest project taking twice the amount of time than if you were making them yourself and zero children were near the cooking premises.
Of course, it always requires a healthy dose of patience and a bottle of Holly Nog to let kids make anything with more than two steps entirely on their own, but nothing is better than the pride and joy they feel in making something from start to finish all by themselves for someone else.
Aside from melting the chocolate for these little cavity inducers, and being on finger-licking patrol, I kept my arms out of the project and wrapped around Joey the entire time. The boys did such a great job! I wish I had a photo of them delivering the finished packages to each of their peers. Their grins were priceless.

Steve and I try to teach it is in giving that we receive to the boys, words we, as adults, are still trying to trust.  Being generous not only with our material blessings, but also with our time, can sometimes be a challenge to our self-seeking natures.

We can only be said to be alive when our hearts are truly conscious of our treasures.
 - Thornton Wilder

How many more days 'til Christmas, Mommy??

If you have little ones at your feet today, I bet that, like me, you've been asked that question countless times over the past few weeks.

Weren't we the same when we were young? There's so much excitement wrapped up in the Advent and Christmas seasons.  I wish I could say with 100% confidence that my boys are counting down to Christmas purely because they are awaiting the supreme gift of Christ, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but the honest truth is they can't wait to see what Santa brings.

I'm not sure our nature changes all that much much as we get older.  The longing for something more, to be blessed, to be surprised, to be thought of, to be given something we can call our own is within each of us.  Those longings can be such a good thing, provided they are anchored in Christ.

My children make dozens of requests every day, from a necessary glass of water to unnecessary extras such as sweet treats, toys or more TV time.  Being asked over and over constantly for things is kind of exhausting, isn't it?

I wonder sometimes if I weary the Lord with all of my requests, I'm quite certain that I lack gratitude and thanksgiving in a measure that far exceeds my wants. Steve is always saying that we cannot give that which we don't possess.

How can I expect my children to live a life of gratitude if they don't see it in me, or hear it from me first??

There is so much to be thankful for. All of the time.

During the penitential seasons of the church, I like for our family to choose a virtue that we can focus on together, and this Advent we chose generosity.

Deep and sincere generosity toward others comes from a place of gratitude.  When we understand how blessed we are, giving to others is a natural response.  We have a quote from Ben Franklin on our wall that says, "What good can I do today?" I knew when I saw it in the store that it would become a focal point in our home, not just for the boys, but for Steve and me as well.

Despite the visual reminder hanging in our living room, there is still a tendency in our home toward selfishness. The children need a great deal of encouragement as well as practical opportunities to grow in virtue without being overly criticized for their faults or feeling overwhelmed by their weaknesses.

I always thought as the kids got older that we would go out as a family and participate in volunteer work at soup kitchens or shelters, but many of those places require kids to be of a certain age before they may volunteer.

So, until the boys are a bit older, I have to set my ideals aside and show them that our home is full of people to care for and every day offers an abundance of opportunities to be generous.
I am certainly no expert when it comes to raising sons, but many of you have asked for me to share details of few of what we do in our home to foster virtues in our children.  I also love it so much when you share your wisdom with me! Here are a few ways we encourage generosity in our sons:

At meal time, we ask each of our children to serve someone else at the table, and to be mindful, especially, of the littlest ones' needs to have their food cut, to have a water glass replenished, or second helpings given. While the younger children often desire a reward for their sacrifices, the older boys are beginning to discover the merits in exercising generosity without being asked or prompted.  They are attentive to Joseph when they know I am needed elsewhere, often clean up toys or dishes without being asked, and even take over another brothers' chore without him even knowing.

When they balk at being generous when asked, I find it is helpful (but not always a cure for the bad attitude) to remind the boys that we are ultimately serving the Lord, and that the rewards for every act of loving sacrifice are eternal.  Jesus didn't feel like giving His life for us, but He did, and He is the perfect example of charity in action.

When we're out as a family, during our time together in the car, I try to remind the boys that as young men they are called to be an example of courage, strength and sacrifice to the world.  They can demonstrate these virtues by opening doors for others, assisting the elderly, being gracious to those who serve us and even just cheerfully acknowledging others with a kind hello or how are you can be an act of sincere generosity.

I think it is especially important, as well, that children remember generosity toward grandparents. Our boys pull weeds and mow lawns for grandparents during the summer months whenever possible. And, if they are not sure how they can be helpful, we just remind them to ask, "Is there anything I can do to help you today?" Grandparents cherish children's thoughtfulness and their helpful hearts, too!

Each Christmas the boys put their names in a hat and draw someone whom they will either buy or make a gift for.  If they don't have any money of their own, and want to purchase a gift, then we put up a list of chores that can be completed for payment such as detailing the car or cleaning out the garage. I feel that this doubles their generosity, because they have to sacrifice play time to work hard in order to obtain their goal!

In addition to Christmas, birthdays and Father's day are also special times during the year for them to show extra special acts of generosity toward others through the gift of sharing something they possess, doing chores for others, or making or buying a gift for a family member.

I really love how every day family life provides the most perfect and abundant opportunities for everyone to strive toward living a virtuous life.  It just takes a little bit of effort on the parents' part to show the children how precious these opportunities are, and that the value in seizing the opportunities has an eternal reward.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Snowman Named Phil, Good Reads, Goal Setting and Cocktails to the Rescue {7 QT Friday}

TGIF!! Steve and I are heading out the door with the gang for a day of Christmas shopping. Yes, we are crazy!  Even with homing devices attached, walkie-talkies fully charged and the diaper bag busting with baby stuff plus emergency melt down supplies (dum-dums and Smarties - Smarties are best for rationing) I'm 90% certain we'll still have to stop at the liqueur store on the way home. Before we venture out into the land of holiday delights, I thought I'd throw some 7 quick takes at ya:

- 1. -
We had a little snow spell here that lasted less than 24 hours, and the boys made the most of it.  It was that heavy, wet snow, perfect for rolling into snowballs and snowmen.  I posted Henry and George's creativity on Facebook yesterday:
So, this is Phil. Phil enjoys biking, gardening, collecting leaves, grooming his beard and eating at Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. 

- 2. -
Steve and I would like to personally thank those of you who have reached out to us with such great kindness over the past few days in response to the post I wrote sharing news of his struggle with Lyme disease.  Since we are fortunate to have caught his symptoms in the early stages, Steve's condition is, at present, not as severe as many patients who have been suffering from the disease for years.  He is bearing the load of the illness so courageously, rarely complaining and offering always every ounce of strength he has to serve the family and to be attentive to our children.  

To walk beside him in all of this is a privilege, and he inspires me daily.  I am amazed that Steve is still going to CrossFit.  Although he admits it's a struggle to be so much weaker and slower than he was a year ago, he continues to try because pushing through a workout bolsters his confidence and fighting spirit against the disease. I love that about him!

- 3. -
In light of #2, finding time to run has become more important than ever.  If you've been here before, you've heard me say time and time again that exercise for us ladies is the very best way to manage stress, our hormones, emotions and to stay strong so that we can better serve our family and community.  For the first time ever, I actually sat down and put together a tentative race calendar for 2015, which includes a few half marathons and one full marathon and of course a lot of little races here and there.  On a lighter note, I'm kind of loving the crazy running tights trend.  I actually threw on a fun pair yesterday, which resulted in confused expressions from the men in the house.  I enjoy confusion *wink.*

- 4. -
We decided to put up our tree a bit later than usual this year in hopes that it might inspire a deeper sense of anticipation in the boys, and I have to say that it truly has.  Each week of Advent, we've been adding ornaments to the Jesse tree, sprucing up the house, putting up lights outside, baking treats and doing everything except decorating the tree.  Steve and I love watching our kiddos dig through the box of ornaments in search of their favorites.  We get so tickled at how all of the ornaments seem to end up in one spot on the lopsided tree.  After the boys go to bed, we do a bit of rearranging, laughing over the recollection of the evening's events.

- 5. - 
Another tradition we enjoy during Advent is reading by the fire.  The boys have their stash of books, and Steve and I like to choose something that we read together each holiday season, too.  This year we're really diving into Dr. Scott Hahn's book, Joy to the World.  It is absolutely amazing.  But, aren't all of his books? When is that last time you read one of his works and thought to yourself, "Welp, that was pretty average." Exactly. I daydream of returning to the school days, of sitting in Dr. Hahn's classroom and absorbing all of the wisdom and truth he has to share, but since that's not likely to ever happen, reading his books is a pretty fine second.

- 6. -
Look who's six months already!! The rice cereal adventures have begun, which he loves. This new little snack has made Mr. Chubbikin's thighs even chubbier which is the best. thing. ever!

- 7. -
Next to my overflowing recipe board on Pinterest, the one that generates the most successful activity (and results *hee-hee*) is the cocktail board.  If you're looking for some super fun sippers for the holidays or a 911 to help you handle awkward family moments, you're welcome to check out my bag of tricks.  Of course, if you're an expert in this department, I would love for you to fill me in on one or all of your favorites in the comments!

Have a fabulous weekend, my friends!! XO

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Because Sometimes an Illness is the Very Best Reason to Party -Unfolding the Story of Steve's Struggle With Lyme Disease

The week before Thanksgiving I (with the help of many generous souls) threw a dandy of a surprise party for my husband, Steve, in honor of his 40th birthday.

Throwing parties is not one of my gifts. Just thinking about it makes me sweat profusely with stress. But, with a lot of help, I mean a lot, we did it, and it was awesome! I wanted to take many more pics of the day we spent cooking and decorating in preparation for the festivities, but we were all running around like crazy trying to pull everything together, so I had very little time to get behind the lens.
Steve's sister, Jennifer, and her daughter Brianna worked their magic in the kitchen.  Bri is the baby-sitter extraordinaire.  Joey is in love with her.  Deep, deep love.
My friend, Susan, who happens to be the amazing mother of nine precious souls (so you know she has tons of free time) came to help me decorate for the party. She possesses the rare, yet precious, talent of figuring out how to unravel a mess of tangled balloons!

Both my mom and Steve's mom did SO MUCH to make all of the carefully thought out plans a reality.  They seriously moved at lightening speed, and I wish I had photo evidence of all their generosity and effort!
My goal was to keep the decorations masculine yet simple, but ya'll know that with Pinterest, anything that looks simple is never really simple. Ahem.
My mom was incredible during the weekend of the party. She was right beside me all weekend helping at home with the kids and the entire day during the set-up process being much more attentive to the little special details that I didn't have the time or energy to focus on.
Steve's mom generously gave me her time and assistance for two solid months making phone calls, digging up pictures, advising, watching kiddos, running errands. It was a gift to bring the event together for her son, whom we both love so much.  I was really touched that her entire family was able to be at the party!
Steve with two of his best college buddies from Farmhouse fraternity, Steve and Scott.

One of the most fun decorations we put together was a big 40 that we covered with photos from Steve's life from birth to present.  Watching guests gather around the pics to catch a glimpse of his life was such a treat.
A supremely talented friend from our parish agreed to make Steve's birthday cake.  She did an amazing job, didn't she?? She not only made the cake for Steve, she gave it to him as a gift!

Friends came from far and wide, and those who couldn't come sent loving messages and sincere wishes for fun - and fun did we have!
Our friend, Sara, came from out West and, let me tell you, she was the life of the party!
Stephi and Joe were my picture takers - without them this would be a pictureless post!

Over one hundred people came to celebrate with my guy.  He was truly touched by all of the sacrifices and efforts that so many people made in order to be there with him that night.
Our amazing friends, J.P. and Elizabeth traveled from KC for the party!
These two...oh, my gosh, these two!! They kept us on our toes all night, and we were so happy that they made the long drive to spend the evening (and early morning *eek!*) with us!
Several of Steve's fraternity brothers and their beautiful wives were able to make it to the party. We are so blessed to have been able to stay connected with them over the years since graduating from KSU. His brother, Scott, agreed to give a toast, and it was one that we will never forget.
There wasn't a dry eye in the room as Steve's dad also shared a toast. At least my eyes weren't dry, but that's because crying is something I'm really good at. I should be in a sad movie, because I can cry on cue.
Watching our parents dance together is such a supreme joy!
Annie Up = Most awesome party band evah!
We ate, drank and danced - yep, I hired a band, and they were crazy good! Steve and I have always loved to dance.  We secretly dream of being wedding crashers. (Did I just admit that??) Getting a wedding invite in the mail, especially if the wedding festivities include dancing, is like the supreme gift.  Hiring a band for the party was the easiest part of the surprise planning.
Joey was an absolute trooper. He enjoyed being passed around between the guests, adorned with hugs and smooches, and even twirled around on the dance floor a time or two!

So how did all this craziness come to be?? Last fall, when I realized Steve would be turning forty in December, I knew that I wanted to do something really special, not just because he would be reaching one of those landmark birthdays, but for reasons much bigger than that....

It was almost exactly one year ago when, on an ordinary afternoon of school and chores, I found my husband, whom I thought was in his office fielding business calls, on the bathroom floor completely overcome with uncontrollable anxiety. I immediately dropped to my knees, reaching out to wrap my arms around the broken man who fought desperately to hide his swollen tear-filled eyes behind the cover of calloused hands.

I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come.  Just six months earlier, Steve began experiencing sensations of numbness and tingling in his hands and occasionally his feet.  The symptoms were sporadic, so we both gave it little attention until one day he came home from work bothered by uncontrollable muscle twitches on the backs of his legs, and a disturbing inablity to concentrate or focus on daily tasks.

I'll never forget the look in his eyes as he explained to me how bothersome the twitching and foggy brain symptoms were.  It was a look of both worry and fear.  That day was the beginning of a long and arduous process of researching illnesses that might be associated with Steve's symptoms. Eventually, we narrowed the symptoms down to what we believed could be Multiple Sclerosis, ALS or Neurological Lyme Disease.

After weeks of appointments, phone calls, more research and tests, Steve was given the Lyme diagnosis.

The past few months have been filled with many ups and downs physically, mentally, and emotionally for my love.  At times it feels as though he is adjusting well to this new way of life, a life that requires Steve (and myself) to be much more attentive than before the diagnosis to his day-to-day habits that affect his health. Being attentive to a healthy diet, regular exercise, proper rest, remembering medications and supplements, tracking and journaling symptoms, and embracing the reality of physical limitations that were simply never there before has been an adjustment for everyone.

Once we put a treatment plan in place (last winter), Steve began to experience some relief from his symptoms, so we were very encouraged and felt as though we were on the right track with regards to his medical protocol.  Unfortunately, late last summer, some of Steve's symptoms began to escalate, and new ones popped up with a vengeance. He began experiencing terrible sensations of pulsating frequencies in his head, especially at night time, which often left him completely unable to sleep. Naturally, his ability to concentrate, to remember the names of friends and family, or even simple objects became terribly difficult.

He was exhausted and worried that these new symptoms the Lyme was presenting would not be remedied and could even get worse.  The worry was nearly consuming.  Nothing can prepare you, as a wife and mother, for the great amount of strength and fortitude required to truly care for a sick spouse, and manage the needs and lives of all the little ones too.

If you are reading this and have dedicated your life to caring for a sick child, spouse, parent or friend, I wish I could reach out and embrace you this very moment.  I offer you my deepest empathy. Words cannot possibly describe the weight that presses upon the care-taker's heart, and I know you understand what I am saying and feeling.

Steve's doctor, who was very concerned with his new set of symptoms, recommended that he begin testing for Multiple Sclerosis. Many of the symptoms that Lyme disease can present are similar to symptoms for M.S., Fibromyalgia, Parkinson's, ALS, and a number of other neurological diseases, which is why those very illnesses are often misdiagnosed.  The doctors believe a patient has M.S. or some other neurological disease, but he or she actually has Lyme disease.

The days of waiting for his testing to begin were filled with terrible anxiety for Steve.  He couldn't help but worry about what the future held for him as the provider and protector of our family.  To say that my heart was completely broken for him is an understatement.  I simply cannot explain the intensity of my desire to take away all of the pain and worry from him.

I've never prayed as hard as I did during those weeks when Steve was suffering most.  It's funny, but I've never been one to enjoy getting up at night with our babies for multiple feedings, but I am truly thankful that Joseph has been waking often in the night to nurse, because I want to be up, ready to help Steve in case he cannott sleep and, if nothing else, just to pray over him again and again and again.

When Steve's doctor encouraged him to begin testing for M.S., I knew right then and there, that I wanted to do something significant to celebrate his upcoming birthday.  At the present time, he still possessed a good amount of physical strength and mobility and was trying to carry on through the days as normal as possible.

I couldn't help but think that a year from now, the picture of life could look quite different than the present.  Would he be confined to bed or to a wheelchair?  Would it be necessary to send the boys to school so that I could dedicate myself to caring for Steve full time?

These were all frightening questions, yet very strong possibilities that we wrestled with day after day as we waited for Steve's test results.  During the wait, I decided to move forward with my idea to host a party.  I booked a band, locked in a great venue, and gathered Steve's family together to see if they would join me in the planning and execution of the event.

Just days after diving into the party plans, I received a call from a very emotional and relieved husband who called to share the wonderful news that the results of his M.S. tests were negative. I cannot tell you what an enormous relief this was to both of us!  Now the question was, what can we do to step up his treatment of the Lyme?

Everyday we are devoted to researching possibilities and opportunities for potential treatments of the disease. Steve's symptoms continue to change from week to week and their frequency and severity is often unpredictable, which makes understanding the disease a monumental task.

To watch someone you love so much, someone who has always been in perfect health, suffer so greatly is a mighty cross to bear.  And, yet, as I say that, I can also speak with complete confidence that Lyme disease is not something that has happened to Steve, but rather something that has happened for him.  Our crosses are often a gift, a mercy meant to bear a particular fruit in our lives if we are willing to offer ourselves unreservedly to the Father, trusting in his great plan and purpose.

We pray daily for Steve's healing, but we pray even more that he might be a docile and loving servant of the Lord, submitting himself freely to accept with humility the greatest good that can possibly come of all of this.  If it be healing than praise the Lord, and if it be to suffer the terrible pains of mind and body as well as the physical limitations that the Lyme brings, then Praise Him Still.

Looking back, I'm truly happy that I decided to surprise Steve on his 40th.  There's something so beautiful about friends and family coming together for a celebration.  I believe that celebrations can open our eyes to glimpses of heaven, the supreme eternal party, and that glimpse has the power to infuse a deeper sense of hope and encouragement into the heavy hearted, the broken body, the tired soul.

I know that's exactly what the surprise party did for Steve (and for me as well).

If you could be so kind as to keep Steve in your prayers, I will be eternally grateful.  We are thankful for your friendship and support, and promise to keep you posted on any new developments concerning Steve's condition.

Friday, December 12, 2014

He Wll Finds Us In the Mess and Make Our Mess His Home

These guys....
They are my charmers.  My little ones.  The people who use perpetual giggling and spit up to help me forget that I'm also mom to one who will be in high school (I'm choking over those words) in eight short months.  I remember when Benedict and Andrew were this age. I had so much time to just sit on the floor and play with them, to watch them grown and learn and live right in front of me.  Those were such glorious days.

I feel a great longing in my heart to be able to give these guys the very same time and attention.
I could write a thousand captions for these photos. They fill my heart with such great joy.  Baby bro on the left keeping upright thanks to the skillful placement of one chubby finger on the carpet and a steady right hand on big bro's back.
 The jammie huddle.  Let's put our heads together, and think up a genius plan to overwhelm mother with our adorableness today!
Uh, oh, Chubs McCrackers is lookin' a lil' wobbly. Joey earned the nickname when the boys, who often snack while holding him, discovered that his little belly shelf catches their cracker crumbs.
 Easy does it, Chubs. Steady now, steaeaeaeaea-dee.
Next to Lego mini figures and BBQ tater chips, pajamas are Charlie's world.  I think there was once a movie called Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Well, Charlie is going to start the Brotherhood of the Traveling Jammies. I can see it now:  One pair of fleece footie pajamas, six boys and a bag of chips.
The older boys might not be up for it, but Chubs McCrackers will be in fo sho!

Today after lunch I gave myself permission to read a few of my favorite blogs while the boys finished their quiet reading.  Two of my favorites from Kathryn and Stephanie included sentiments about slowing down, simplifying and stepping back a bit from life, all of which resonated deeply with me.  

To my own personal disappointment, I have found the opportunities to blog (thoughtfully), to spend quality time with friends, run in weekend races, or to do something as simple as geting a hair cut to be very few and far between since Joseph's birth.  He is still in "I can survive on virtually zero sleep" mode and will not be comforted by a pacifier or anyone's arms but mine.

I really cannot seem to find my footing these past few months.  Since Steve's health has been a great concern to both of us and has required significant adjustments for me personally, caring for him as well as the majority of the children's needs is a calling that, most days, leaves me feeling inadequate as I wrestle constantly with everything that's not getting done. 

That's a pretty uncomfortable place for me to be.
But, isn't it true that discomfort is also a merciful gift from God?
I believe so....I really do.

Thankfully, this Advent, despite the desperation I so often feel internally, grace has come.  It comes as a steady stream of arrows piercing holes in all my best arguments for how I think things should be, how they should go according to my plans, desires and even according to my capabilities.

Grace has helped me accept all of the things that I cannot control and given me the fortitude to settle in to the present moment, trusting in all that God desires to give me right then and there. You guys, this is so hard for me, I mean if only you could see how messy life is around here right now!

Although my nature desires to tidy the home, create more exciting school projects for the boys, bake holiday treats for the neighbors or even to read something more stimulating than  Dick and Jane, those aspirations are just not possible right now.  God is using my limitations so that I may SEE his generosity - generosity expressed through the excitement in the eyes of a child who is thrilled to share an idea or a story with me, or a hug from a son that I hold for an extra second just so his post-basketball practice scent of hard work might imprint upon my memory forever, or the supreme view of two little guys playing together on the floor in their pj's.

Surely I would have missed these things, or at least not appreciated them to the depth that I should, had I been allowed the opportunity to carry on about the day's business according to my own desires for a well groomed family nested inside of a perfectly ordered home with time dedicated to blog about it all.

Above all, this Advent, I am learning to truly grasp the truth that what the Lord seeks from us is our very best in all circumstances.  If this season of your life allows you time to bake and decorate and craft then, for the love of Jesus, you should do just that.  And, if this season of life means that you must offer up the mess, another infant feeding, another sleepless night, another burned dinner, another denial of any self-comfort or opportunity to do what you want so that others may be blessed by your sacrifices then, for the love of Jesus, you should do just that.
For many years I have loved the Chris Rice song Make Yourself at Home.  It is the perfect meditation for me this Advent.
Hope that you don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home

The the Lord's manger is our soul.  It is the place He longs to rest, to reside within us every day.  I am learning, day by day, that the soul's most supreme furnishings and decorations are not our own ambitions and accomplishments but the words "Yes, Lord" that we speak, the ascents of the will, great and small, moment-to-moment each and every day to whatever God may be asking of us.

So wrap our injured flesh around YOu
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world